City cautious about opening senior center

Thursday, July 9, 2020

McCOOK, Neb — McCook City staff is still debating whether to open up the McCook Heritage Senior Center, closed since March due to the COVID-19 virus.

Beth Siegfried, center director, told the McCook City Council Monday night during a discussion on re-opening city facilities that she’s received calls from senior citizens who want to resume playing activities at the center but she’s hesitant to open it up completely.

That’s because a number of concerns are still in play, said City Manager Nate Schneider. The logistics of serving meals at the center could be difficult, given social distancing requirements and this segment of society that’s the most vulnerable to the virus, he said. Social distancing in food lines would have to be observed and diners would also have to sit far apart. Schneider said gatherings of eight people in the same party are allowed under the current directed health measures but do not pertain to a gathering of people coming from different locations, that would occur at senior center, he said.

Still, for some seniors, activities at the senior center are the only form of socialization they have, he added.

Sigfried expressed concerns about serving meals at the center but also said that home-delivered meals and meals picked-up might also be utilized, using staggered times. A total of 3,226 meals were served from the center last month, either home-delivered or picked-up, she told the council.

If the center is opened to serve meals, Siegfried said the salad bar and ice cream machine would be off-limits due to directed health measures, the two most popular items among seniors. Sigfried said she’s waiting to see how the senior center in Lexington, Neb., is doing, after recently re-opening.

Schneider said the city could take a “wait and see” stance, waiting for direction from the state.

Another option cited was opening up the center for activities only. Playing cards, exercise class and Wii bowling could be done in separate areas of the center at different times, Sigfried said. But then again, when playing cards, everyone would be touching the cards and people would be congregating from different locations, she added.

But opening up a facility does not guarantee participation. Other recently-opened city facilities include Memorial Auditorium and the public library, both with restrictions, Schneider said. Although the auditorium is reserved for almost all of August for wedding receptions, that’s not the case with the library, that opened June 29. In a recent conversation with Jodi Crocker, McCook Library Director, the library is not getting the number of patrons expected, he said.

City Councilman Jerry Calvin had a different take on the situation. The generation using the senior center is from “the Greatest Generation” that have seen a lot through the years, Calvin said. And although they may be vulnerable, “they are not fragile but pretty tough.” Getting out and socializing is crucial to mental health and Calvin advocated letting senior citizens make the choice if they want to go to the center — or not.

Mayor Mike Gonzales asked that city staff keep the city council updated on what is decided with the senior center.

Other city facilties the council asked about were the ball parks, with Kyle Potthoff, Public Works director, saying that bleachers were open except for within six feet of the dug-outs and that the restrooms were open at Karrer, Barnett and Kelley Parks.

As of Tuesday, Nebraska has 20,046 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 283 deaths, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Within the past two weeks, 1,111 cases were confirmed in Douglas County (Omaha), followed by 262 in Lancaster County (Lincoln) and 208 in Sarpy (Omaha area). Dakota County (South Sioux City) has 43 new confirmed cases and Morrill County (Scottsbluff area), 36. Red Willow County has four confirmed cases.

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